Joscelin Yeo Wei Ling
Joscelin Yeo Wei Ling (b. 2 May 1979,1 Seoul, South Korea2–) is a national swimmer of Singapore, and the only athlete on record to have won 40 gold medals at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.3 Yeo retired from competitive swimming in 2007, and is regarded as a legend in the history of competitive swimming in Singapore. She set numerous records throughout her 17-year swimming career, and was honoured locally numerous times for her outstanding contributions to the sporting scene in Singapore.4 Yeo excelled in swimming and academically as an undergraduate in the United States, and was the first female student athlete in the University of Texas at Austin to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship.5
Early life, training and education
Born 2 May 1979, Yeo is the middle child and the only daughter in the family.6 All three siblings, each born a year apart, excel in sports and music. Their mother, Mrs Yeo Lee Choo, put Yeo and her brothers through gymnastics, violin, piano and art lessons to let them discover their talents.7 The Yeo siblings were made to take up swimming for water safety reasons.8
Pursuing competitive swimming was Yeo’s own decision. She pushed herself at a young age, constantly striving for betterment.9 Her coach then, Kee Soon Bee, had said that Yeo would be the next Junie Sng, a legendary female swimmer from Singapore during the 1970s and ’80s.10 Her training was rigorous, from five to seven in the morning and then another two hours from five to seven in the evening at the Toa Payoh Swimming Club five days a week.11 Yeo made her debut in competitive swimming at the age of 11 when she participated in the 1990 Asia-Pacific swim meet in Jakarta, Indonesia. She won six individual golds, one relay gold and silver, and set six individual records and two relay records.12
Yeo received her primary and secondary education at Methodist Girls’ School,13 and then spent the rest of her education abroad.14
In 1995, Yeo moved to Australia to study at Melbourne Girls’ Grammar School and thereafter at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology,15 where she trained with Bill Nelson. From 1999 to 2000, she studied at the University of California, Berkeley and trained under Michael Walker.16
In 2001, Yeo chose to follow Walker when he transferred to University of Texas at Austin.17 She majored in education and graduated with a GPA of 3.68 in 2003, making the dean’s list in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.18
Given her impressive academic and swimming achievements, Yeo became the first female student athlete from the University of Texas at Austin to clinch the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, England.19 However, she did not take up the scholarship.20
Yeo became a member of the Singapore National Team in 1990,21 and made her SEA Games debut at the 1991 edition hosted in Manila, Philippines, where she won two silver and three bronze medals.22 The 1993 Singapore SEA Games was one of the highlights of Yeo’s career: She achieved her best medal tally of nine gold and one silver medals.23 She also bagged an impressive number of gold medals in subsequent SEA Games – seven at the 1995 Chiang Mai SEA Games, and six each at the 1999 Brunei SEA Games and the 2003 Hanoi SEA Games.24
In the 2005 Manila SEA Games, Yeo won six gold medals and became the first Singapore athlete to have 40 SEA Games gold medals under her belt.25
Yeo swam competitively throughout her varsity education in America. She was named Collegiate All-America Swimmer 21 times,26 Pacific 10 Conference Champion four times, and Big 12 Champion 10 times. She helped her team at the University of California, Berkeley attain a fifth-place ranking in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimming Championships in 1999, and a fourth-place in 2000. In addition, Yeo helped the University of Texas swim team win two Big 12 Championships, and set the world-record time in the 200-meter medley relay with her teammates in the 2000 Championships.27
Yeo is the only Singaporean to have represented Singapore four times in the Olympic Games – at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2004 Athens Olympics. She was also Singapore’s flagbearer during the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games.28
Yeo was named Singapore’s Sportswoman of the Year for 1993, 1995 and 2000.29 She was also awarded the Sportsgirl of the Year title for 1994,30 and in 1999 was ranked ninth in a list of Singapore’s 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century, a series by The Straits Times newspaper.31 In recognition of her contribution to competitive swimming in Singapore, Yeo received the Special Award from the Singapore National Olympic Council in 2006.32
Yeo had intended to retire after the 2005 Manila SEA Games,33 but her excellent performance there spurred her to train for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.34 She went on to compete in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the 2006 Doha Asian Games.35 In January 2007, Yeo made the decision to officially retire from competitive swimming, owing to the lack of motivation to train for another year till the upcoming Olympics.36
In 2004, Yeo published an autobiography, On the Move: My Career, My Story, in which she writes about the burden of living up to expectations and the reasons behind the public perception of her as being media-unfriendly.37
Yeo helped out at her brother’s swimming school, Yeo’s Aquatics, after retiring from competition and works as a youth counsellor at New Creation Church.38 She is the Singapore Swimming Association’s vice-president of swimming.39
Between 2009 and 2011, Yeo served as a nominated member of Parliament and raised a range of issues in that capacity, such as foreign sports talents and reliance on tuition.40 In 2014, Yeo was one of 108 women lauded in the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation’s virtual Women’s Hall of Fame.41
She married Joseph Purcell, a American pastor at New Creation Church, in 2010.42 They have three boys, Sean Christopher, David Benjamin and Michael Joseph.43
Yeo was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 2006.44
1. Wang Meng Meng, “Tao Li v Joscelin,” New Paper, 17 December 2006, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Joscelin Yeo, On The Move: My Career, My Story, ed. Chua Chong Jin (Singapore: n.p., 2004), 73. (Call no. YRSING q797.21092 YEO)
3. Teo Cheng Wee, “Jostling Yeo,” Straits Times, 29 May 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Chan Yi Shen, “Golden Girl Joscelin Retires at 27,” Straits Times, 31 January 2007, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Rhodes scholar Olympians,” The Rhodes Trust, accessed on 1 August 2016; “Annual Report 2003–2004. Kinesiology and Health Education, College of Education,” University of Texas at Austin, 3, accessed on 1 August 2016.
6. Teo, “Jostling Yeo.”
7. Yeo, On The Move, 74.
8. “Pint-Sized Powerhouse Owes all to Mum,” Business Times, 10 October 1990, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Yeo, On The Move, 74.
9. Yeo, On The Move, 6–7.
10. Yeo, On The Move, 74; Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO). (n.d.). “Junie Sng Poh Leng: First Singapore woman to Win Swimming Gold at the Asian Games,” Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), accessed on 5 September 2016.
11. Brenda Chia, “She Wants Only to Win,” New Paper, 17 April 1993, 28; “Pint-Sized Powerhouse.”
12. “Pint-Sized Powerhouse Owes all to Mum,”
13. Bernard Pereira, “‘I’m not Hard-Up for Awards’,” New Paper, 2 March 1994, 43; “Joscelin Makes History,” New Paper, 25 July 1990, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Yeo, On The Move, 22–23, 23, 38–39, 50.
15. Wang, “Tao Li v Joscelin,”; Yeo, On The Move, 22.
16. Yeo, On The Move, 22–28.
17. Yeo, On The Move, 56.
18. University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
19. The Rhodes Trust, “Rhodes Scholar Olympians”; University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
20. Teo, “Jostling Yeo.”
21. University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
22. Yeo, On The Move, 6.
23. Teo, “Jostling Yeo.”
24. Lim Han Ming, “39... and Counting. Joscelin Yeo Equals Golden Girl Pat Chan’s Gold-Medal Haul,” New Paper, 3 December 2005, 68. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Teo, “Jostling Yeo,”; “Gold is the Colour of Jos,” Straits Times, 6 December 2005, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
26. University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
27. University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
28. University of Texas at Austin “Annual Report 2003–2004,” 3.
29. “Multiple Winners,” Straits Times, 21 April 2001, 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Shirlynn Ho-Pereira, “Ben and Tracey Pay Tribute to their Fathers,” Straits Times, 28 May 1995, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Yap Koon Hong, “A Salute to our Athletes,” Straits Times, 20 December 1999, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Tan Yo-Hinn, “Sports Associations Set for Review,” Today, 26 June 2006, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Tan Yo-Hinn, “Heading for Manila and Maybe, Asean History,” Today, 6 April 2005, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Tan Yo-Hinn, “Jos Sets Sights on Beijing Hurrah,” Today, 13 March 2006, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Cubby Leong, “Yeo and Co Clinch a Bronze in 4x100 Medley Relay,” Today, 10 March 2006, 70; Chan Yi Shen, “Smiling Joscelin Primed for One Last Hurrah The Straits Times Rating System,” Straits Times, 24 November 2006, H25. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Chan, “Golden Girl Joscelin Retires.”
37. Yeo, On The Move, 8, 73, 15–16.
38. Avis Wong, “Gosh, Jos, you’ve come a long way,” New Paper, 4 February 2007, 20 (From NewspaperSG); “Mom of 3 But Joscelin Yeo Still Busy with Swimming," New Paper, 8 May 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
39. “Committee & Constitution,” Singapore Swimming Association, accessed on 9 September 2016.
40. Foreign Sports Talent 2011, 87, Official Reports – Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 8 March 2011, 4159–160; Benson Ang, That’s a Baby Bump, Jos, New Paper, 20 August 2011, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Theresa Tan, “108 Lauded on Virtual Women’s Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 6 March 2014, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
42. Germaine Lim, “Wedding Bells for Swim Belle,” New Paper, 29 June 2010, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Ang, “That's a baby bump, Jos”; Jonathan Wong, Joscelin Yeo Fell for his Big Heart, Straits Times, 2 July 2010, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Mom of 3.”
44. “The Order of Nila,” Straits Times, 9 August 2006. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
Cubby Leong, “Off the Sick Bed, Yeo Sparks a National Mark,” Today, 21 March 2006, 53. (From NewspaperSG)
Kor Kian Beng and Cai Haoxiang, “The New NMPs: Up Close & Personal,” Straits Times, 10 July 2009, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
Nick Aplin, David Waters and Leong May Lai, Singapore Olympians: The Complete Who’s Who, 1936–2004 (Singapore: SNP Reference, 2005). (Call no. RSING 796.09225957 APL)
“Our Golden Girls,” New Paper, 23 August 2008, 45. (From NewspaperSG)
Peter Siow, “Still Waiting for Joscelin's Crown,” Straits Times, 2 March 2006, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
“Records,” Singapore Swimming Association, accessed on 1 August 2016.
Theresa Tan, “108 Lauded on Virtual Women’s Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 6 March 2014, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
“The Big splash for Swimming,” Sports, 23, no. 5 (May/June 1995), 22. (Call no. RSING 796.05 S)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.